My research interests lie at the intersection of bioacoustics, conservation, tropical biology, monitoring anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity, capacity building, and equitable and decolonized community engagement. These interests have evolved from my experiences conducting field-based scientific research in Central Africa and integrate skills I have gained from my work in conservation science, field biology, animal health, science communication, bioacoustics, social justice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through these opportunities, I have learned how to collect detailed behavioral and acoustic data, effectively train and mentor students, manage a research camp, work in remote locations without running water and electricity, deploy acoustic recorders and camera traps, lead field expeditions, speak a moderate amount of French, create logistical plans, design and manage databases, conduct statistical analyses, execute public outreach, engage with local community partners, and advocate for social and environmental justice. These experiences have pushed me to become an independent researcher who can confidently ask important scientific questions, lead and mentor others, and engage in public outreach and community partnership both locally and globally.
I spent four years working with the Elephant Listening Project, a research group at the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. Through this work, I gained experience working on projects related to monitoring forest elephant populations in Central Africa and which focused on developing a better understanding of their socioecology, communication, and conservation status. Project examples include one examining the varying behavioral contexts a specific combinatory call is given in, a project investigating the effect of anthropogenic noise on different forest elephant populations, a project exploring how habitat type may have influenced the evolution of rumble types in forest elephants (co-author on a published paper), and a project examining nocturnal and diurnal shifts in forest elephant bai- visitation behavior as a direct result of increasing human pressure (poaching, logging, and mining) along the Gabon-Republic of Congo border (lead author on a paper currently in prep).
During my M.S. thesis, I continued my work on forest elephant conservation and bioacoustics while a graduate research assistant in Dr. Sara Bombaci's Diversity and Inclusion in Conservation Ecology Lab at Colorado State University and as a research affiliate with the Elephant Listening Project. I am currently working to develop an acoustic gunshot detector that is capable of classifying gunshot sounds by the type of gun they originated from (automatic vs. non-automatic). Automatic weapons are used to hunt larger game such as forest elephants, chimpanzees, and gorillas, all of which are either endangered or critically endangered. Non-automatic weapons are used to hunt smaller game such as species of monkey and duiker, most of which are of lesser conservation concern currently. Through the classification of hunting events across acoustically monitored landscapes, more information will be provided on the different types of hunting occurring, allowing conservation practitioners to identify hunting hotspots for certain groups of species as they use this information to inform conservation initiatives such as anti-poaching patrols. The use of this technology will also allow conservation practitioners to focus on apprehending and deterring hunters who are committing more serious types of wildlife crime rather than those who are hunting for subsistence, often on lands that were stolen from them not so long ago. As part of my thesis, I also completed two analyses that examine how forest elephant occupancy and nighttime calling activity change in response to gun hunting in the northern Republic of Congo.
I am additionally conducting a literature review to investigate how frequently an intersectional approach that accounts for the severity (e.g., trophy hunting, subsistence hunting) and drivers (e.g., food insecurity, status) of hunting is used when enforcing penalties for wildlife crime. I argue that the use of this intersectional approach is critical in order to ensure that we are using an equitable and human-rights-based conservation approach. This is especially important in areas where local communities have been subjected to regulations that limit or even fully eliminate their access to the natural resources on the lands that were stolen from them through the creation of protected areas.
I also have a strong interest in conducting research related to social and environmental justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have published a paper on a study where collaborators and I investigated how noise pollution is inequitably distributed across urban areas due to the discriminatory and racist practice of redlining. Through these findings, we highlight the inequitable and negative impacts noise pollution is having on both people and biodiversity in urban spaces. I am also working on a project with collaborators to examine pay inequity among faculty working at US academic institutions on topics related to wildlife and ecology. I am additionally working with collaborators to conduct an investigation on the senses of belonging and safety felt, or not felt, by LGBTQIA+ individuals working in the field of conservation. I am also working with collaborators to investigate the perceptions of students (undergraduate and graduate), staff, and faculty in the wildlife field in relation to DEISJ initiatives implemented at their colleges and universities. I am also further developing my own framework for conducting applied conservation by learning more about the application of a decolonized, anti-oppressive, and feminist perspective when partnering with communities in the areas I am working.
*Nelson-Olivieri J.R., *Layden, T.J., Antunez, E., Khalighifar, A., Lasky, M., Laverty, T.M., Sanchez, K.A., Shannon, G., Starr, S., Verahrami, A.K., Bombaci, S.P. 2023. Inequalities in noise will affect urban wildlife, Nature Ecology & Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-023-02257-9
Hedwig, D., Verahrami, A.K., Wrege, P.H. 2019. Acoustic structure of forest elephant rumbles – a test of the ambiguity reduction hypothesis, Animal Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-019-01304-y
*Collins, A., *Feuka, A., Nelson-Olivieri J.R., Verahrami, A.K., Bombaci, S.P. Opportunities to improve safety and belonging for the LGBTQIA+ conservation community. [In review].